Kelvin Soto, to restore credibility to the Osceola County Clerk of Courts – Orlando Sentinel

By Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board
Orlando Sentinel
Jul 23, 2020 at 8:25 AM

Endorsement: Kelvin Soto, to restore credibility to the Osceola County Clerk of Courts Endorsement: Kelvin Soto, to restore credibility to the Osceola County Clerk of Courts – Orlando Sentinel

One thing is certain: Osceola County needs a new clerk of courts to restore the office’s credibility, which has suffered long enough under the incumbent clerk, Armando Ramirez (we’ll get to his transgressions later).

We’re just as certain which candidate is best suited for the job. That would be Kelvin Soto, an attorney and current Osceola County School Board member.

Soto’s resume is a good starting point. It’s outstanding. He grew up in Puerto Rico and then served his country as a U.S. Navy corpsman from 1987-1993, staying in the reserves and national guard afterward. He got a master’s degree in public health from San Diego State University, then got a degree from the prestigious law school at Berkeley.

He practices civil, family and criminal law in Kissimmee and got elected to the Osceola County School Board in 2012.

An impressive resume is one thing, but Soto has, by most accounts, been an effective member of the School Board. Looking at the clerk’s job, he demonstrates an understanding of how the office should work, and a willingness to rebuild it from ground up. That includes better services like translators in a county with many Spanish-speaking people. He proposes a satellite office as well.

Soto is earnest in his belief that the clerk of courts should make life easier for people, not harder. The tasks of the clerk’s office are broad and varied. They’re responsible for everything from processing and archiving court records to managing juries to maintaining evidence introduced in court to issuing marriage licenses and passports.

You don’t hear much about clerks offices when things are going smoothly. Over the years, we’ve heard a lot about Osceola’s clerk of courts.

That’s because the incumbent clerk, 85-year-old Armando Ramirez, has run the place as if it’s some kind of private fiefdom.

He promoted his son’s girlfriend from secretary to deputy clerk, jumping her pay from $60,000 to $95,000 (and gave her a 20% raise a few months later). His finance director quit because He feared for her professional reputation if He kept working there. His spokesman quit after Ramirez ordered him not to release public records. His IT director was fired after he said the staff was encouraged to violate public records laws. The HR director was fired, too.

All this, and much more, during his first year in office in 2013.

Somehow, Ramirez has weathered the storms and remained in the job, elected again in 2016. If he gets re-elected this year, he’ll be 90 by the time his term is through.

Ramirez didn’t show up for the Sentinel Editorial Board video interview with the candidates. No wonder. We had a lot to talk about.

Ramirez is self-funding his campaign, an oddity for someone who’s been in office for nearly eight years. Considering his record, perhaps not so odd.

Aside from Soto, two other challengers are in the race, and either one of them would surely be an improvement over Ramirez.

John Cortes is a retired New York corrections officer who got elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014. He’s leaving the office without having made much of a mark in the Legislature, however. He has a firm grasp of what’s wrong with the clerk’s office but his ideas weren’t as well formed or expressed as clearly as Soto’s.

Another candidate, Jossue Lorenzo, is a Heriff’s deputy who’s spent some time at the courthouse in the course of his duties and has witnessed some of the clerk’s shortcomings. He struck us as earnest but far less prepared than Soto to run a large and complex administrative operation.

We were glad to hear Lorenzo say he would treat the state public records law with more respect than Ramirez (a very low bar, that) but taken aback at the scenario he presented of keeping a clock on requests that might take, say, 30 days. The answer suggested a lack of familiarity with the law’s mandate to fill requests in a reasonable amount of time.

Because the only candidates in this race are Democrats, the winner of the Aug. 18 primary will win the office outright.

We worry that voters will split the vote among the three challengers, allowing Ramirez to skate into another term he doesn’t deserve.

Voters in Osceola should rally around Kelvin Soto, who has served his country and is the best candidate to serve his community as clerk of courts.